World Chefs: Malaysian cook aims to awaken U.S. palates to her native food

Tue May 20, 2014 5:03am EDT
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By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Southeast Asian chef and author Christina Arokiasamy likes to say that when the flavors dance, that’s Malaysia, and she’s on a mission to awaken palates to the unique pleasures of her native cuisine.

“Americans tell me they love the Asian flavors of India, Japan and Vietnam but they don’t know what Malaysian is and now they're discovering it,” she said after a tasting event in New York.

Last year the Malaysian government appointed the 46-year-old, who was born in Kuala Lumpur, trained in Bali and Thailand and now lives in Seattle, Washington, their food ambassador to the United States.

Arokiasamy, who wrote the part memoir, part cookbook “The Spice Merchant’s Daughter,” spoke about Malaysia’s melting-pot cuisine, the ginger and lemongrass growing in her garden in Malaysia where she also has a home, and how Asians will travel for good peanut sauce.

Q: How did you learn to cook?

A: I trained in Bali, Indonesia, at the Four Seasons and in Thailand, at the Four Seasons as well ... but my mother was the best culinary artist I could ever find in the whole wide world and taught me everything I needed to know about the underpinnings of our cuisine. She was a spice merchant and she could whip up any spice you could imagine as if she had a wand.

Q: Why did the Malaysian government appoint you food ambassador to the United States?

A: Marriage brought me to the United States. While I was writing my book I had a cooking school in Seattle, Washington ... I have taught everybody, from mothers to CEOs, to cook Malaysian foods and understand the underpinnings, which is why the government of Malaysia came to me.   Continued...